Coming off one of the most successful seasons in Dixie State University’s volleyball history, the Storm hoped to return to mid-season form with a warm-up contest against a team comprised of DSU alumni.
DSU finished 17-3 in the Pacific West Conference last season and upset No. 1 nationally ranked Northwest Nazarene in the NCAA tournament before its campaign came to an end in the Sweet 16.
The alumni team, led by Nichole Koehler and Kara Cotter, both members of last year’s team, put up quite a fight. It led at some point in each set and even pulled off a win in the fourth. Ultimately, the Storm’s towering front line proved to be too much for the alumni to handle, blocking and spiking seemingly every ball in play. DSU’s size is an asset that head coach Robyn Felder said is a huge advantage.
“Our defenders this year are ridiculous,” Felder said. “I’m 5 foot 11 inches and at practice, I feel small. I think our blocking and defense can be No. 1 in the [PacWest] conference.”
Anchoring the Storm’s defense are returning middle blockers Makenzi Bird-Murphey and Lindsey Jones. Bird-Murphey, a senior communication major from St. George, started in 22 matches and posted a .279 hitting percentage, which ranks in the top 10 in DSU history. She added 142 kills and 54 total blocks, both among the leaders in those categories in the PacWest.
Jones, a 6-foot-2 junior from St. George, is already proving to be a force in the middle for the Storm. She finished her sophomore season with similar numbers to Bird-Murphy, gathering 112 kills, 48 blocks and a hitting percentage of .339, landing her at second on Dixie’s all-time list.
Also returning for DSU is libero Alex Anderson, who is 605 digs away from becoming the Storm’s all-time leader. Anderson, a senior biology major from Prescott, Arizona, has been a staple of consistency for DSU for the last two years, appearing in some capacity in every game since her sophomore season began. She has been awarded with All-PacWest honors in both her sophomore and junior seasons.
Along with those familiar faces, the Storm will welcome five junior college transfers. Newcomers who, Anderson said, are fitting in perfectly.
“I think that’s something [Felder] really stresses,” Anderson said. “In order to be a team, you really have to go outside your comfort zone. Our team has been really good at that.”
Along with the transfers, seven freshman will be joining the DSU roster this year, adding some much needed depth.
“We are excited to have some more depth at each position,” Felder said. “I can’t wait to see who steps up. I have big expectations for this group and I know they will rise to the challenge.”
Felder is not the only one who has high expectations of this year’s squad, as Dixie received the most first place votes in the PacWest preseason poll with four. BYU-Hawaii also picked up four while California Baptist University and Point Loma Nazarene University were awarded three. The coaches’ poll resulted in the closest voting in the conferences history with CBU being tabbed as the No. 1 team coming into the season. PLNU took the No. 2 spot, BYU-H nabbed No. 3 and the Storm rounded out the top four.
This season is shaping up to be a tightly contested one at the top of the PacWest as DSU looks to make its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Storm begins its season with an exhibition match Sept. 2 at 5 p.m. in the Student Activities Center against Colorado Mesa University.